[concurrency-interest] Composite compare-and-swap based on two values

David Holmes davidcholmes at aapt.net.au
Tue Sep 6 08:27:41 EDT 2011

DCAS is double-compare-and-swap. It allows you to atomically check and update two independent memory locations. No current hardware that I know supports it. It makes some lock-free algorithms trivial to implement in theory.

AtomicStampedReference is a special variant of storing two logical values in one variable, but if I recall correctly the second variable here is limited to 1-bit - a mark or stamp bit. This could be implemented by using the unused address bits to hold the stamp/mark while the variable holds the actual data. But in the JDK it is just doned with locking. Some lock free algorthims are based on having this kind of composite variable.

But based on your description of the counter and the boundary it isn't clear to me that reset() needs to be atomic, as the boundary or value could change the instant after you set them anyway.

  -----Original Message-----
  From: Oleksiy Khilkevich [mailto:oleksiy.khilkevich at gmail.com]
  Sent: Tuesday, 6 September 2011 10:07 PM
  To: dholmes at ieee.org; Concurrency-interest at cs.oswego.edu
  Subject: Re: [concurrency-interest] Composite compare-and-swap based on two values

  It just happens on occasion :)

  2011/9/6 Oleksiy Khilkevich <oleksiy.khilkevich at gmail.com>

    Hi David and folks

    2011/9/6 David Holmes <davidcholmes at aapt.net.au>

      You can not compose CAS operations to get atomic updates to multiple variables. A DCAS would solve your problem but we don't have one :) AtomicStampedReference (as mentioned by Daniel) is a very restricted form of DCAS and in fact is implemented by locking in the JDK.

    Can you tell in more detail about DCAS concept? Maybe some relevant link? Google is not of much help unfortunately. I'll try to figure AtomicStampedReference in the meantime.

      You either need a mutual exclusion mechanism that is applied to all variables (eg locking), or you need a protocol that allows optimistic updates and can account for conflicts/contention. Or you encode both variables into a single atomic variable.
    I thought about encoding the state in a single variable as well, but I was also looking for some general approach to such case. Single-state variable is not very scalable.  

      I must admit though that I don't really understand the semantics of your reset() operation, and I'm unclear why the value and the boundary can be modified independently.

    The cyclic counter is supposed to incrementally decrease its value from some boundary till zero and set it value again to boundary, in my implementation, the boundary is supposed to be adjustable, so you can increase or decrease counter value space in thread-safe manner. the reset() is supposed to reset the counter value to it's boundary.

    I plan to reuse this interface further to implement work schedulers and few similar things on top of it in my further journey through java.util.concurrent.*

    I've attached the interface so you have an idea about it.

    @Viktor: no, am looking into it, transactional memory is somewhere deep inside my learning backlog :o)

    Thanks for all your answers

      David Holmes

        -----Original Message-----
        From: concurrency-interest-bounces at cs.oswego.edu [mailto:concurrency-interest-bounces at cs.oswego.edu]On Behalf Of Oleksiy Khilkevich
        Sent: Tuesday, 6 September 2011 8:14 PM
        To: Concurrency-interest at cs.oswego.edu
        Subject: [concurrency-interest] Composite compare-and-swap based on twovalues

        Hi Concurrency Champs 

        I'm implementing non-blocking cyclic counter mostly for learning purposes, and faced the following problem, which i'm not sure how to solve.

        The method in question implements the following 

             * Sets counter value to initial (boundary) value
             * @return true if counter value was changed
            boolean reset();

        The implementation I'm not sure about

            public boolean reset() {
                for (;;) {
                    int curValue = value.get();
                    int curBoundary = boundary.get();
                    if (curValue == curBoundary) return false;

                    // TODO: if boundary and value were not changed, set the value to boundary

                    return true;

        Here I have two values which are both AtomicIntegers and which may change - value can be incremented or decremented by another thread, and boundary can be changed too. 

        I'm not quite sure how to do this without introducing critical sections. In general the question refers to any shared state change based on values of several other shared states.

        What is the correct way to implement such operation atomically without critical sections? IS it possible to build composite CAS operations based on AtomicInteger#compareAndSet ?

        Thank you and kindly waiting for your ideas

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